Chasing Certainty After Cardiac Arrest: Can a Technological Innovation Solve a Moral Dilemma?

Neuroethics 14 (3):541-559 (2021)
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When information on a coma patient’s expected outcome is uncertain, a moral dilemma arises in clinical practice: if life-sustaining treatment is continued, the patient may survive with unacceptably poor neurological prospects, but if withdrawn a patient who could have recovered may die. Continuous electroencephalogram-monitoring is expected to substantially improve neuroprognostication for patients in coma after cardiac arrest. This raises expectations that decisions whether or not to withdraw will become easier. This paper investigates that expectation, exploring cEEG’s impacts when it becomes part of a socio-technical network in an Intensive Care Unit. Based on observations in two ICUs in the Netherlands and one in the USA that had cEEG implemented for research, we interviewed 25 family members, healthcare professionals, and surviving patients. The analysis focuses on the way patient outcomes are constructed, the kind of decision support these outcomes provide, and how cEEG affects communication between professionals and relatives. We argue that cEEG can take away or decrease the intensity of the dilemma in some cases, while increasing uncertainty for others. It also raises new concerns. Since its actual impacts furthermore hinge on how cEEG is designed and implemented, we end with recommendations for ensuring responsible development and implementation.

Author Profiles

Mayli Mertens
University of Antwerp
Marianne Boenink
University of Twente


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